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March 1997
Volume 15, Number 3


Congress and New Mothers
Jeffrey Tucker


Congress proved it: not even childbirth is off limits to federal mandates. Forty-eight hours will heretofore be the minimum hospital stay for new mothers, Congress said, double the time insurance companies used to cover. Who could disagree with such tender loving care, courtesy of D.C.?

There's a cost even to this intervention, as I learned after my wife gave birth to our second child. There were no complications, and we could have left after one day. Instead, tests and seminars were spread out to justify keeping her there. As a nurse then explained, hospitals now keep mothers extra long because insurance companies pick up the tab.

Meanwhile, the maternity ward was twice as packed as usual with mothers staying twice as long. New mothers had to bunk and share rooms and bathrooms. We were lucky to get a private room at any price. Nurses had more patients to tend to--some people use any excuse to press that emergency button--and so service necessarily declined. The doctors, too, were spread extra thin.

In the past, the patient always had the option of paying for an extra night. Today, every birth is an opportunity to extract more subsidies--about $500 per birth--and everyone pays through higher insurance premiums. I'd bet the hospital industry, which has perfected the art of extracting wealth through third parties, was the premier lobbyist for the change in rules. Certainly it had the most to gain from Congress's intervention.

Yet, in the old days, weren't insurers just being skin-flinty by refusing to pay for an extra night? Not at all. Who better than insurers to judge the likely health effects of medical procedures and hospital stays? It is they who have to foot the bill for any complications. Certainly politicians don't know better than those with a direct financial interest in good care.

Moreover, it is hardly fair to ask lifetime bachelors to pay for a mandate for my wife to have an extra and probably unnecessary day in a hospital after bearing a child. Everyone in the risk pool is effectively taxed through higher premiums, whether or not he sees the inside of a maternity ward. Companies pay their portion through higher labor costs, lower profits, and fewer increases in wages and salaries.

The two-day baby rule may at first appear innocuous. In fact it is only one of many past and future mandates, that eventually could turn the medical insurance industry into a de facto single payer for an entirely socialist industry. Neither major political party has the willingness to resist the trend towards ever more Congressional micro-management of health services. To the contrary, this was a Republican bill.

In the Nanny State, the excuses for government intervention reach ever deeper into the details of family life. Six months after mandating longer stays for new mothers, Congress is considering whether to prevent people accused of "domestic violence" and their immediate relatives from owning guns. Who can object when Congress shows such love and concern for family and children? Will Congress now mandate a reasonable length of time a teen can be grounded?


Jeffrey Tucker edits The Free Market.


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